Friday, May 5, 2023

Jesus' Amazing Claim to Be the Excellent Shepherd

In John 10:11, Jesus says, "I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep." In my morning Bible time today I was led to this verse and to its context. If you have a minute, I'd love to share with you what I learned. 

A footnote in my Greek New Testament led me to Ezek 34, as well it should have. For when Jesus said "I am the good shepherd," he was undoubtedly contrasting himself with the shepherds of Israel who are addressed in that chapter. Here the Lord condemns the leaders of the nation for failing to do their duty. They only took care of themselves and neglected and abused God's people. They fed themselves and left the flock to starve. They failed to care for the weak or tend to the sick or bind up the broken bones or look for those who had wandered away. "My sheep," says the Lord, "wandered through the mountains and hills and over the face of the earth, and there was no one to search for them or care about them." The shepherds "abandoned my flock, leaving them to be attacked and destroyed. You were no real shepherd at all. You fed yourself and let them starve." 

By contrast, in Ezek. 34 the Lord says of himself (note the frequency of the pronoun "I"):

  • I will search for and find my sheep.
  • I will be like a shepherd looking for his flock.
  • I will find my sheep and rescue them from all the places where they scattered.
  • I will bring them back from among the people and nations where they were.
  • I myself will be the Shepherd of my sheep and cause them to lie down in peace.
  • I will seek my lost ones, those who have strayed away.
  • I will put splints and bandages upon their broken limbs and heal the sick.
  • I will destroy the powerful, fat shepherds; I will feed them, yes -- feed them punishment.
  • I myself will save my flock.
  • I will set one Shepherd over all my people, even my Servant, David. He shall feed them and be Shepherd to them.

You can't miss it, can you? The Sovereign Lord says, "It is I who will do a good job of shepherding my sheep." 

And that is precisely the context of John 10. When Jesus says he is the good shepherd, he is saying that he is the Shepherd of Ezek. 34. "In me," he says, "and in me alone, you will not only find life, but life in all its fullness." The good shepherd, in contrast to bad shepherds, even lays down his life for the sheep. He's more interested in his people than in saving his own life. His death on the cross is the overwhelming and conclusive evidence of that. The result is a relationship between the believer and Christ that resembles that of Jesus and the Father (v. 14). Life is enjoyed to the max when we enter into this intimate, daily relationship with Jesus. When we're in that relationship, we flourish and thrive. It is indeed a relationship like no other on earth. 

Now, let's talk about the Greek for a moment, shall we? 

First of all, note the pronoun egō. The idea is "I and I alone." Secondly, notice how the adjective "good" is placed not before but after the noun "shepherd." In Greek, this is normally done for emphasis, much as in English we might say "God almighty will grant you life everlasting" instead of "Almighty God will grant you everlasting life." Finally, note the word for "good" used here. I might have expected agathos instead of kalos. Of course, both words can refer to moral excellence, but kalos often refers to external goodness, what we might call beauty. Here it seems to have the meaning "attractive" in the sense of "nobel" or "something to be emulated." In other words, Jesus is the ideal or model shepherd. We might even say that he is the excellent shepherd -- emphatically and exclusively so. He models for us -- including those of us who serve as shepherds of local churches -- guidance, care, protection, and self-sacrifice. I think Wuest brings this out quite nicely when he renders Jesus' words as "I alone am the shepherd, the good one." I might have written it this way:

I alone, in contradistinction to all others, am the shepherd, the excellent one.

I hope this verse has done as much for you as it has done for me. The times in my life when I have been closest to the Lord have been the times when I have come to him as the loving Shepherd who cares for my soul, just as I care for our own sheep. 

Just look at what he promises. He says he will give us everything we need for living a truly good and satisfying life. We cling to him like a lamb clings to his mother. Occasionally I will hear one of our newborn lambs cry out for his mama. That's the kind of hunger we should have for God's word and for his goodness and kindness and mercy and protection and guidance. "Let him have all your worries and cares," writes Peter, "for he is alway thinking about you and watching everything that concerns you" (1 Pet. 5:7). There is hardly a moment when I am not thinking about our animals and watching everything that concerns them. 

Think of it! God is so anxious for his children that he nevers take his eyes off of us for a single moment. Did you ever realize that you are that important to God? If you really want to feel the presence of God, make that verse personal: "Let him have all Dave's worries and cares, for he is always thinking about Dave and watching everything that concerns him." Furthermore, he wants all of our worries and cares, not just some of them. And since he wants them, they don't belong to me any longer. 

To know that the God of all things, the great I AM, is watching every single thing that concerns me is almost incomprehensible to my mind. And he cares not only about my spirit but also about my body and soul. He is watching EVERY SINGLE THING that concerns me.  

Need I say more? Who could help but want to know and love Jesus when he gives us such a word as this. Thank you, Lord!